WASHINGTON, DC — A Republican with a record of butting heads with the Obama administration over health care and LGBT policies, Georgia Rep. Tom Price was named Tuesday as Donald Trump's choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services.
Of particular concern to advocates are nondiscrimination rules under the Affordable Care Act, which Price wants to repeal wholesale.
“If he is confirmed, Rep. Price will be tasked with enforcing this law that currently provides critical, life-saving protections to transgender people,” ACLU legislative representative Ian Thompson told BuzzFeed News.
As they prepare for Trump's administration, Thompson and other advocates are taking stock of the big picture and fine-grain policies that Price could undermine or reverse.
“Much remains to be determined,” said Thompson, adding, “He's a longtime opponent of LGBT rights, and has consistently supported efforts to use religion to discriminate.”
Matt Kavanaugh, a senior policy analyst with the Global Health Access Project, which advocates for HIV treatment, told BuzzFeed News that he feels Price's record foretells how the new administration and Congress could eviscerate budgets for HIV treatment.
"Rep. Price was the chair of the House Budget Committee, so we know exactly what he and Speaker Ryan have planned on health — and it's very scary," said Kavanaugh, who worries they will shift toward privatizing health coverage. "Most people living with HIV in the US depend on Medicare, Medicaid, or Obamacare for access to HIV treatment."
Trump's transition team did not immediately respond to a request from BuzzFeed News to respond to concerns about enforcing nondiscrimination policies or funding.
In order to allay concerns, Chad Griffin, president of the LGBT group Human Rights Campaign, told BuzzFeed News in a statement that Price needs to lay out his agenda.
“Tom Price must immediately clarify what his plans are when it comes to ensuring the health and safety of LGBTQ Americans," he said. "As Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, it will be his job to serve all Americans — something he’s spent years avoiding as a United States Congressman."
As a member of the House, Price voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and did not back a bill to ban LGBT discrimination in public spaces, including health services.
Price said in 2013 that laws to expand LGBT rights would drive up “medical health and costs,” agreeing with a caller who said that there should be research into the fiscal impact of laws advancing the "homosexual agenda." He also joined fellow lawmakers in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court this year opposing the federal government from using an existing civil rights law — which bans sex discrimination — to also protect transgender students' access to restrooms that match their gender identity.
On Facebook, Price called the Obama administration's policy “absurd.”
In much the same way federal agencies have interpreted civil rights laws to protect transgender students and workers, the Obama administration interprets the Affordable Care Act — which bans sex discrimination — also to ban transgender discrimination in health care, thereby requiring providers to cover transition-related care. The rule further bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when it is based on gender stereotypes. Under the Obama administration, HHS has enforced the rule to protect transgender patients in at least 11 cases.
Thompson said that Price can’t just “junk” that policy on his own, but HHS could begin new rulemaking to rescind it. (Trump, for his part, has suggested since his election that parts of the Affordable Care Act could be repealed and others left in place.)
On another front, Thompson noted the HHS’s evolving guidance on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The Obama administration relaxed a ban that effectively barred blood donations from any man who had gay sex — the new policy bans only those men who've had gay sex within the previous year.
Thompson said he “would be surprised” to see the total ban reinstated, but, he said, he doesn't predict Trump to follow the lead of Congressional Democrats who say the policy should be rewritten to cover a person's risky behaviors, not their sexual orientation. “I’m not expecting to see progress in moving towards a nondiscriminatory, risk-based policy.”